When artists make stylistic left turns, or undergo wholesale reinvention, there’s a tendency to want to do a little bit of detective work. Were there indications on the last record that they might head in this direction? Has something happened in their personal lives, or in the wider world, to make them stop and take stock? Is it a decision driven by commercial considerations? Are they trying to put clear blue water between the real them and some public perception of them? Are they hanging around with a different crowd? These questions, and more besides, are always in service of a bigger one – is this evolution or regression?
CAPRISONGS suggests we might be overthinking it. A remarkable change of pace for FKA Twigs, it’s a release that could be viewed through any one of the above prisms, because she has flirted with this kind of territory before, and she has been through considerable private turmoil, and the world is on its arse, and this does sound as if it could open her up to a wider audience, and CAPRISONGS does sort of make a mockery of the popular idea of Twigs as an intensely cerebral art-pop auteur.
But none of that is the story here; instead, it’s that Twigs has delivered on her promise that this project could best be surmised as an ideal pre-drinking soundtrack. “It’s bronzer in the sink, alcopop on the side… a club pre-game… your bestie who is always late but brings the most to a party,” was her Instagram summary of CAPRISONGS shortly before its release, and it is, indeed, irresistibly good fun in an endearingly breezy way that often belies the quality of its songcraft.
It’s escapist pop that encourages the listener to put aside any external frames of reference and appreciate it for what it is. Officially a mixtape, it feels like that in more ways than one, from the opening sound of a cassette being loaded and play being pressed to the casually experimental way in which she weaves through styles; there’s dancehall on the Shygirl collab ‘papi bones’, which is immediately followed by ‘which way’, an exercise in maximalist synthpop fizz.
Elsewhere, she turns her hand to trap-inflected R&B (‘oh my love’), hints at gospel on ‘careless’, and embraces afrobeat with ‘jealousy’; meanwhile, the standout overall might be ‘darjeeling’, which has her enlisting Jorja Smith and Unknown T for a brilliantly off-kilter pop song that slickly interpolates Olive’s ‘You’re Not Alone’.
The only real through-line on CAPRISONGS, outwith a loose lyrical fixation on astrological themes and between-track transitions provided by snippets of conversations with friends, is the sense that this might be the most that Twigs has ever enjoyed herself in the studio. When that atmosphere emerges so infectiously from the speakers, what’s to be gained from overanalysing it?